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Curator of Diptera's blog

22 Posts tagged with the specimens tag
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Help - volunteers wanted

Posted by Erica McAlister Jan 29, 2010

Afternoon!

 

This is just a quick post as at the moment I am trying to edit the database and sort out all the dirty records! I have two work experience students who are recurating some of the British collection and edit the records as they go along. There have been so many changes from when these records were originally added and now, with many species having been synonymised (they are now recognised as not valid species) and many having been misidentified in the first place! I have about 8 screens open on my monitor and a pile of books to check all the references and the currently agreed names. But enough of my friday afternoon fun...

 

My French Guiana material needs to be looked at and I have advertised for volunteers.

 

https://gs12.globalsuccessor.com/fe/tpl_nhm01.asp?s=jsUrXCzMkBNsPpBkh&jobid=48317,4961231223&key=19345732&c=791225360298&pagestamp=sefoyrqffsklkvcqhs

 

I have a selfish reason for this in that i will get to spend a fair amount of the time with the volunteers going through the material. If anyone would love to come and help, please do!

 

Right back to work. I have an A-level tour group on Monday morning which i have to bring down some exhibition drawers of non-diptera material to my cocoon end (it's mine you see ). We are explaining the relevance of Museums collections and how we enhance them. I get to talk about fieldwork!

 

Speaking of which - i was very happy to learn that I will be off to Stockholm, Sweden to carry out a work placement there for three week. I am just trying to figure out dates (in between other bits of fieldwork, tours, Dinosnores, training courses and the rest!!) but it should be a very useful trip. I will be working with a researcher who as well as looking at Stilt flies also deals a lot with specimen level databases. He should hopefully be able to show me the many different ways in which he enables his collection to be accessed on line. That might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world I realise but it is all about enabling greater access to the collections, which has to benefit everyone!

 

I have digressed! I really must get back to work now....

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Us and Them

Posted by Erica McAlister Dec 30, 2009

I have titled this blog so as at the moment it really does feel like it! There are virtually no science staff (most are on holiday) but 5 million visitors!! The Museum is exceptionally busy at the moment and the fact that it has not stopped raining has compounded the problem!! The public are queuing around the ice rink!! Just getting through the public galleries is an ordeal!! I feel nicely tucked away in my bay just listening to the few other entomologists typing away . I have been reading papers on the use of museum specimens for DNA analyses and am now itching to get back into the lab and have another go at extracting. We are working on some UK mosquitoes at the moment that were collected from our various fieldtrips this year that have been stored in the freezer to prevent the DNA degrading.


I have spent the morning in the Specimen Preparation area in the Cocoon. I have been waiting to properly get my hands dirty with the material that came from French Guyana and so though that this would be the perfect opportunity. For some reason there are an awful lot of horse flies. Several of us have commented on this fact that when using malaise traps (tent like trap for catching small flying insects) there is always an abundance of them. The speaker system was not working though and I spent a long time scribbling down things for the public. These samples have an abundance of dung beetles, cockroaches, hymenoptera of all sorts, bark beetles and of course my babies! As well as all of the horse flies (and some long tongued ones!) and the robberflies there are also some very pretty soldier flies . I cant decide which is better - knowing that there is loads of new, undescribed species or being able to say what is in there already. It's all terribly exciting - I will calm down soon!

 

I was trying to write down little facts for the public as I sorted. I am not sure that they were happy about some of them. There are the Phorid flies of which some burrow down into coffins whilst others decapitate ants! Then there were the assassin bugs of which some are blood feeders on us! There are the dung beetles where i described my fieldwork of collecting them using various different types of dung....

 

...I will have to change the alcohol that the sample arrived in though as after two hours i was a little bit vacant to say the least!

 

This afternoon i am writing a case study for sampling insects in Costa Rica for a book to be published later on in the year. I have written a draft already but it needs to be more concise. I see an afternoon of red pen!

 

I am preparing myself for the sleepover as well. I have been revising my knowledge of all arthropods that can harm, maim, cause death etc. I will be such a hit at the New Years Eve party I am going to!

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Seasons greetings

Posted by Erica McAlister Dec 18, 2009

I have not posted for a while - sorry. This week has just been about parties though. The advantage of working in a place with many different departments is that there are many different departmental parties . However, I have been missing most due to illness - I promise to try not to be rude to people who have had flu again...(only to try mind you).

 

We had the museum party on Monday night which is down in the picnic area. Bangers and Mash theme and the food was proper old school stodge. It was exceptionally dark but that could have been on purpose . It is a nice chance to catch up with other people from the different sides of the museum. The 'life sciences' party was on Wednesday night with the theme of C and D in honour of the new building. Quite a few vampires, a dalmatian, the odd plant were among the many costumes. I went as Curator of Diptera...One colleague came with a chart attached to him with which you could change the reading depending upon what time it was and his level of conciseness . Watching serious entomologists etc dancing the maccarena has traumatised me though...

 

But back to work. I have been winding down for Christmas with all loans being on hold due to the Christmas post being crazy. I get to catch up on some paper work and answer all those emails that have been building up. I have many boxes of flies on my desk that I need to sort through. I am trying to edit the database at the same time and cross check that all of it is cited and refered correctly. It all takes time.

 

I have also taken on two Masters work experience placements. I love having people to work here - just ask anyone how kind and understanding I am...They have been given little projects working on UK flies - to recurate, identify and transfer information about any BAP species etc onto recording schemes. It will be great to get some of our specimen level data on the recording schemes (about time!) The Forum began to take information of the labels and we are trying to think about a quicker way of doing this. Any ideas?

 

I was also in the paper on Tuesday as well which resulted in my emitting a little squeal on the way home on the tube! Spelt my name wrong though! But yes we are doing a sleep over and the more I think about it the more that I am wondering why on earth!! 200 children!! At least I do get to go home at the end of the evening and have a massive glass of wine! I will be giving a talk on venomous and poisonous arthropods so that should relax the little darlings before they go to sleep

 

I have literally just recieved a consignment from French Guiana. Oh my, my christmas' for many years has just happened. Apart from me killing all of my colleagues with the smell of some highly distilled alcohol which leaked over the box - the pots are amazing. I have just had a poke in the smallest one and pulled out this many robber flies (please see photo below) - How cool is that!!! It will take a considerable amount of time just sorting this material to order! But so worth it. The material is fresh and from a part of the world that still contains good prestine habitat

 

pot of mixed.jpg

Ok I am off to play with the specimens

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It is Monday morning, and I am tired! Not the best way to start the week but then again last week was a week from Hell. I was staying too late everynight and by Friday has lost most of my powers of speech (most unusual for those who know me and luckily recovered by the recuperative ability of London Pride..)

 

It started off ok. We had completed some fieldwork down on the Isle of Grain in Kent. This is a fantastic place to collect mosquitoes and we have been sampling here for a long time. It is a desolate place (fantastic for birds though) which has a post-apocalyptic feel about it.

 

My two companions have not been to Kent before and their are not sure that it being named the Garden of England is not totally apt! (for this part anyway!!) But We went off looking around all the abandoned bunkers, jumping over ditches with the back pack aspirators on, searching for the resting adults. We did not have much luck to start with as the day was very windy and so not very conducive to any slightly exposed resting populations. However, we did come across the mother load (technical term...) in one bunker that involved a lot of manoeuvring around very sharp vegetation. I have to say sampling in a bunker that reeks of urine is not the most pleasant... There were several species resting together and we are hoping to turn up something interesting. They are now all back in the lab in -80oC freezers waiting for us to morphologically and molecularly identify them. There will be a lot of lab work coming up.

 

But the fun that has been occupying us in collections has been the move and on last Monday things become hectic for two reasons; Firstly we have to get a synoptic collection of Diptera into the new Angela Marmont Centre by the 28th of November as this is when we are hosting the Dipterists Forum AGM at the NHM; and secondly, the whole collections move for Diptera starts today...I am crossing everything...

 

So I will start with the synoptic collection. What we are doing here is having a selection from the British collection of up to five flies from each species described from the UK. We have at the moment a separate British collection and after printing off and slicing up over 7000 labels we are making up new drawers of these specimens. These will then be available for the general public to consult. This project has been beset by problems with drawers and trays not being available for one reason and another for ages. Finally on monday though we started moving specimens into the new drawers and there have been many late nights in the collection areas trying to move as many specimens as possible before the move started this monday. The completed drawers look great though and it is now possible to see where the wholes in the british collection are and try and persuade people do donate us material to fill these gaps. .Below we have the new drawers ready for the specimens to go into.

Synoptic drawers.JPG

 

As to the collection move, my boss has spent weeks ensuring that the collection move plans are completely accurate for the company that have been hired to move the drawers from their temporary home into the cocoon. We have moved things around so that the collection just follows the numbering system of one of the most used catalogues. This is not taxonomically accurate nowadays due to reviews, taxonomic changes etc that are happening at a fast rate in Diptera (there are a lot of described species that we were/still unsure about they phylogenetic relationships and a lot more yet to be described) it was decided that this would be the simplest. We at least now exactly where everything is. The drawers at the moment though are covered with labels, colour coded and instructions plastered on them. As I said at the beginning I have everything crossed as these are my babies that they are moving. Bye bye old cabinets and room

 

open cabinats.jpg

Hello new;

 

new cabinets.JPG

I do know that I will squash or be squashed one day . However, as well as the new cabinets, we now have these fantastic cocoon ends within which to work.

 

Cocoon end.JPG

A tad messy at the moment but give us a bit of time to sort it out and it will be like home .

 

We hope to have everything sorted by the 27th as on the 28th is the Dipterists Forum AGM which is being held at the NHM. This is a two day meeting, with talks and the AGM on the first day and then on the Sunday, everyone that wants to will have an opportunity to have a look at the British Diptera collection for the purpose of checking their own material as well as extracting distribution data of our specimens.

 

http://www.dipteristsforum.org.uk/t445-Dipterists-Days-2009.html

 

It will be the first time that the AMC is used for this purpose and we are all looking forward to it. I was amazed to discover in the process that we have someone in the museum specifically for the purpose of producing way signs!

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So I am in the new Darwin Centre and unpacked. And I have to say it is lovely. I have my specimens that I am working on in a cabinet directly behind me. I have a spacious desk with all my catalogues arranged close by. I have a wet lab for sorting my specimens in alcohol a minute away. And it is so light that desk lamps are redundant. And I have a foot rest. I can finally get back to work (there is still the minor problem of the collection that is yet to move into the building though….early November for that and my, it will be crazy). And I have to find a quick route from my desk to the staff entrance..

 

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My bay

 

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View from our floor over the Cocoon

 

Yesterday, though, I got to work on some recuration. I had lent (and by that I mean the Museum) all of our Sisyrnodytes specimens to a researcher in South Africa. These are a genus of Robber flies and the researcher in question is a leading authority. The specimens returned some while ago but I have not been able to put them back in the collection as he had designated one a Lectotype and described two new species from the material.

 

When new species are discovered and named, if it comes from a series then the author may choose to call all of the specimens from the same collecting event etc ‘Syntypes’ (we often have 10+ syntypes). This is not very helpful when it comes to descriptions, so what often happens is that one of them at a later point will be designated a Lectotype. To have this accepted along with the new species that he described, he needed to publish his descriptions.

 

This has now happened so I am able to link the material to the publication, update our system and reinstate the material (all lovingly housed in new Museum standard trays) back into the collection. I have now only another couple of thousand drawers to recurate and a whole lot more of unidentified material…..

 

old style drawers:

DSCN2446.JPG

 

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And my nice new ones

 

We are off on fieldwork tomorrow. We have five days based in BridgNorth, near Wolverhampton….Not familiar at all with the area so it should be interesting. It is with the Dipterists Forum and I think that there will be about 10 of us.Today and yesterday the three of us from the Museum that are going have been organising our equipment. We have nets, microscopes, wellies, id guides etc etc that are waiting to be loaded up.

 

These trips are brilliant for many reasons. We get to run round the countryside, we learn a lot more about the British Fauna and we get to socialise with some of the top Dipterists in the UK. We are prioritising at the moment for species that we don’t have in our collection. It does seem odd that there are some UK species missing from the national collection but it has not been a collection priority for a while.

 

This is all changing with the opening of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK biodiversity. With over 7000 species of fly in the UK we should be kept busy hunting for a while

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Pinning flies

Posted by Erica McAlister Aug 4, 2009
We undertook some fieldwork on Bookham Common a while back, which was being filmed by the BBC.  We set up some pitfall traps, a malaise trap (a tent!) and then undertook some canopy sampling. I have finally had a bit of time today to start sorting through these specimens. The beetles have been studied from many years on the common and so it is nice to look at the fly population. There are lots of fungus gnats, Dolichopodids, hoverflies, houseflies, and some robber flies (which are very cool). I have only just started on the pinning of the specimens from the malaise trap and there are several hundred to do!! Once pinned, I will sort to family level and pass them on to the appropriate people to identify if not within my area.  It’s good to be able to look at specimens as most of the day I have been answering emails and constructing lists. Tomorrow I will be spending the entire day making labels to put in our new Synoptic collection.

I have just recieved an internal grant to have someone recurate and incorporate a collection of fungus gnats from Russia into our collection. This was a research collection and all the names are in Russian, some on dodgy pins, there is dried up genitalia everywhere (a common problem!!) and no label saying that the material is ours. Our new assistant has her work cut out!
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Fieldwork on the farm

Posted by Erica McAlister Aug 3, 2009

Afternoon,

 

We had the most exciting fieldwork on Friday.  The first part of the day was spent on an Urban Farm. There were four girls (including me) and a French man carrying out this particular fieldwork and therefore lots of cooing over the animals. We were looking for mosquitoes and were armed with two backpack aspirators, a hand aspirator and a sweep net.

 

To be truthful, we were not expecting much as sampling can be very hit and miss (that will amaze people who are always being bitten!) but we were most surprised as we sucked up hundreds of specimens (now sitting in a minus 80 oC freezer awaiting DNA/RNA procedures). We also got nibbled by alpacas, screamed at by sheep and gobbled at by a ridiculous turkey – i just don’t understand those animals at all….

 

We then went onto Richmond Park to see if there were any resting adult populations that we could find there. We knew that this would be hard and we did not come across any. However we were also sampling for flies in general and so the afternoon was not altogether a right off (there were ice creams too :) ) It is lovely to get back into the field collecting.

 

The photos are from the farm and show some of the treacherous conditions that we have to sample in…

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Erica McAlister

Erica McAlister

Member since: Sep 3, 2009

I'm Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera in the Entomology Department. My role involves working in the collection (I have about 30000 species to look after and over a million specimens), sometimes in the lab, and thankfully sometimes in the field.

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